EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – The Evansville Water and Sewer Utility Board proposed an increase in water rates to cover the costs of the new water treatment plant in Evansville, replacing the current building which was built in 1897.

The EWSU says it would take more than $220 million to complete the project. They say to cover the costs, they need to raise the water portion of customers’ bills by over 30% over the next 5 years – an idea which is sparking controversy among the public.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held a public hearing at Shanklin Theatre at the University of Evansville, where dozens of people showed up to give their opinions. Ten people spoke in front of the commission.

“A rate hike at this point in time is absolutely ridiculous. I mean people are struggling and it’s just a really bad time. We are drinking bottled water and we all have energy efficient appliances, supposedly,” said Janis Dillon of Vanderburgh County.

Bryce Gustafson from the Citizens Action Coalition said, “with water and waste water, the people who get hit the hardest are the ones that can least afford it. So that’s again why we urge the EWSU to adopt a low income assistance program.”

The EWSU says there is a common misconception about the proposal.

“The water bill is a much smaller portion. I’d say for most bills it’s probably a 1/3 2/3 ratio. The increase that we are discussing tonight is on the water bill,” said EWSU Executive Director Lane Young. The EWSU explained that for an average family who uses 5,000 gallons of water per month, the water portion of their bill would be about $40 per month. The proposal would gradually increase that water portion to around $54 in 2026.

The Vanderburgh County Commission issued a statement, arguing that the proposal is unfair to all – especially considering that county residents saw a hike in their sewer bill in 2002.

Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave attended the meeting where she read the statement and told about her own high utility bills. “Know that these dollar increases are adding on very high bills. So as a citizen, I ask for your complete consideration including those specifically the comments made on behalf of the Vanderburgh County Commission,” said Musgrave.

The IURC did not vote on the proposal.